BAY SHORE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Swimming tragedies make headlines every summer, and it’s especially a problem on Long Island, where so many communities are surrounded by water.

Now, one town is banding together to turn an emotional loss of life into a lesson of survival, reports CBS 2’s Jennifer McLogan.

Last summer, tragedy struck on Long Island, with multiple drownings in the ocean and in backyard swimming pools. Among them was 11-year-old Trezon Lindor, who died in a friend’s pool in Bay Shore.

Anika Carroll and Jada Wade knew Trezon, and until a few weeks ago, the girls were also at risk – loving the water, but unable to swim.

“I learned how to kick my legs,” Anika said.

“I was scared at first, [but] then I realized it wasn’t that deep,” Jada said.

Anika and Jada were among 345 kids whose parents signed them up for free swimming lessons in Brentwood and Bay Shore, and all thanks to the kindness of a local family.

Tim Curtin’s sister was Trezon’s schoolteacher. When the boy drowned, the Curtin family began a foundation to fund free lessons, teaming with the YMCA and local town pools.

“We put up $10,000 at first to get it going,” Curtin said. “The rest is all from fundraising and donations from the community.”

Parents were taking advantage, battling their own water fears alongside their children to learn survival skills.

“Free lessons are great, good for the kids,” parent Roberto Bonilla said. “They all learn how to survive in the water, so less drownings.”

“We’re starting our two-week vacation, and maybe now she’ll have the opportunity to swim for free,” parent Jeffrey Brown said.

The lifesaving mission took on an emotional significance for some.

“Just wonderful to see it, really taking a tragedy and turning it into something positive,” Islip Town Supervisor Phil Nolan said.

“The kids are loving it, but most of all, the parents are valuing it because they want their children to know how to swim and be safe,” Bob Petterson, of the Great South Bay YMCA, said.

For parents with multiple kids, swim lessons can be expensive: normally, swim lessons at the municipal pool cost $55 for 10 half-hour lessons.

Living on the South Shore, though, and being surrounded by so many pools and ocean waters, families said learning to swim needs to be a priority.

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